Mueller launches his first strike

Mueller launches his first strike

The indictment of a former Trump campaign manager has Washington, D.C. — and far beyond — rife with predictions about what it means.

With the first round of indictments stemming from the Russian collusion probe now in, Americans don't know much more about what happened — or didn't happen — than they did pre-indictment.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has three targets, two of whom were charged and one of whom already has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with investigators.

The biggest fish is Paul Manafort, a longtime Washington, D.C., lobbyist who wasn't particularly choosy in his selection of clients. Manafort's associate, Rick Gates, also was charged.

The problem — in terms of public understanding of the collusion issue — is that the allegations against Manafort and Gates have nothing to do with the Donald Trump campaign. In fact, the wrongdoing stems from lobbying and finance violations — failure to register as a foreign agent, money laundering, etc — that occurred several years before Manafort — temporarily — led the Trump campaign in 2016.

Of course, it doesn't take a genius to interpret Mueller's play. He and his team have targeted Manafort and Gates for financial destruction and lengthy incarceration unless they roll over and tell investigators what they know about Trump campaign collusion with Russia — assuming they know anything.

It's a standard prosecution technique for moving up the investigative chain in multidefendant conspiracy investigations. Unfortunately, that kind of forced cooperation usually, although not always, precedes the filing of criminal charges. Indeed, defendants who want to enter into such an arrangement usually offer what's called a "proffer" to prosecutors to see if a deal is even possible.

That means they tell all before a deal is consummated to see if it's sufficient to conclude a cooperation agreement.

That appears to be what happened in the case of the third person charged, little-known campaign volunteer George Papadopolous. He pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI weeks ago, and it seems reasonable to conclude that Papadopolous has been acting as an undercover operative for the feds, possibly wearing a wire to record incriminating conversations with campaign associates.

There is, of course, considerable speculation about what all this means, where it could go and who might be vulnerable to criminal charges. But, for now at least, that's all it is — speculation.

Mueller's job is not to tell a comprehensive and complete story to the public — at least not now — it's to prosecute wrongdoers, and he has been given wide berth to do just that.

That's why the story is nothing less than a confusing mess, a complete mystery as to who was colluding with whom. In fact, what is "collusion"?

Donald Trump Jr. had a meeting with a Russian representative that he had been led to believe had "dirt" on the Democratic presidential candidate. Apparently none was forthcoming. The meeting was a waste of time. Sitting down with a Russian representative was certainly foolish, a clear demonstration that the Trump campaign didn't know what was in its best interests.

But, other than stupid, was the meeting a crime. If so, what's the crime?

That, however, is just the tip of the iceberg — if there's merit to this investigation.

It seems obvious that the Russians played some sort of role in their effort to undermine the democratic process in the 2016 election campaign. What, specifically, they did — other than post political advertising on Google and Facebook and hack computers at the Democratic National Committee — is unclear. An even greater mystery is what impact it had on the election.

Democrats, led principally by their losing candidate, Hillary Clinton, are suggesting the Russians are responsible for the election of President Trump. Without more evidence, that seems to be a stretch.

Perhaps special counsel Mueller and the investigating committees in Congress will fill in the information gaps and answer the big questions once and for all.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion

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WiltonDiary wrote on November 08, 2017 at 12:11 pm

Obviously the News Gazette editorial writer responsible for this hasn't been paying attention to the Russian investigtion.  SAD  Nine of Trumps campaign associates have met with Russian operatives and lied about the meetings and THAT is only the tip of the iceberg!